Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste Now & Then

Ask Molly

• Floating away stress

• A natural sweetener

• Free equipment for schools

• Low-sodium dining out

Q. I'm stressed! I've heard that floating in tanks can be very relaxing. Is there anywhere in town to try it? — M.H.

A. FloatZone (aka FloatZone.calm) claims to be Seattle's only flotation center. Insulated, hooded, 9-foot-by-5-foot tanks, each in a private room, contain a purified saline solution of 200 gallons water and 1,000 pounds medical-grade Epsom salts. That density allows users to float effortlessly. The water is heated to the skin's outer temperature (93.5 degrees), blurring the sensory boundary between skin and water. The owners claim that eliminating the external distractions of sound, sight, smell, taste, touch and gravity frees up to 90 percent of the brain's energy, for increasing creativity, improving problem-solving, learning and honing skills, eliminating old habits and patterns, maintaining health, regaining peace of mind — or taking a nap. A one-hour float is $50 and a five-float package $175. (And the saline solution is purified between clients.) FloatZone is at 1534 N.E. 100th St. in Seattle (206-286-0268;

Q. I was surprised to find no mention of stevia in your column on sweeteners. I have found it to be the best alternative to refined sugar in its taste, nutritional value and absence of a "down side." For so long it was only available as a house plant, but it can now be had as a dietary supplement complementing natural sweeteners. — T.W.

Fitness news you can use
Scoping out
In the December issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal, registered dietitians Candice Dancho and Melinda Manore offered guidelines for evaluating Web sites that focus on dietary supplements: Is the site trying to educate the consumer or sell a product? Does it contain information supported by research, clinical trials, anecdotes or testimonials? Do references name peer-reviewed journals? Who owns or sponsors the site? Who wrote the information? Is the information current, and updated regularly?

Sites that meet their criteria include:
Use that back
It may seem natural to avoid using injured back muscles, but doing so might lead to recurring problems, say researchers at Ohio State University. A study in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Spine found that people with back injuries inflicted twice as much twisting force on their spine, and 1.5 times as much compressive force as uninjured people who lifted the same object. "People with back pain guard the injured area by using more muscles than they need to," said Prof. William Marras. "The more muscles they use, the greater the load there is on the spine." Greater loads can lead to more serious injuries, such as disc degeneration, which can require surgery. Also, lifting objects slowly, as injured people tend to do, intensifies the harm. The study suggests that physical therapy should include not only regaining strength but also learning to use back muscles naturally.
A. I didn't include stevia because that column was about artificial sweeteners, and stevia is quite natural. Many people use the herb Stevia rebaudiana — which also can be found as a dried green powder, syrupy extract, processed white powder or clear liquid — as a no-calorie sweetener. Some folks say it has no effect on blood sugar, though diabetics should monitor their blood glucose with any changes in diet. Stevia is available at many health-food and drug stores (it's not approved by the FDA as a food additive). There are a few books about cooking and baking with it, which can be a bit tricky since it is very sweet and can have a slight licorice taste. Some resources are listed at and a column I wrote about it a couple of years ago can be found via

Q. Do you know anything about an organization called the National School Fitness Foundation? They go to different schools and give fitness equipment and computers, and the schools in turn have to establish and track their students' fitness. Sounds too good to be true. — C.B.

A. It does indeed, but Cameron Lewis, president of the Utah-based foundation, says they've put $150,000 fitness systems into 90 schools in 11 states, though none yet in Washington. "Schools essentially have to provide the space and the manpower to make it work," Lewis says, including a lot of paperwork to demonstrate leadership, commitment to the program, consistent tracking and follow-up of students and equipment. When schools don't keep up with those requirements, the program is rescinded. The nonprofit, public group receives about 50 applications a week and places programs in 10 to 15 schools a month, he says, funded by private individuals, philanthropic groups and corporations including IBM, Compaq, Universal Gym, SportsArt and others. More information is available at or by calling Terry Willardson at 801-492-3440.

Q. I was searching the Web to see if I could find Seattle restaurants where I might take a 90-year-old friend who is on a low-sodium diet. I found an article you wrote about the DASH diet. At the bottom, you asked readers to submit restaurants where they have low-sodium dishes. Did you compile a list? If yes, where can I get a copy? — L.M.

A. In fact, I didn't hear from one person, which probably doesn't bode well for low-sodium restaurant dining. Of course, you can always ask the server which menu items are low-sodium or can be prepared without adding salt, but in my experience, even servers and chefs with good intentions might not be aware of sodium content of some food or the possible severe consequences of too much sodium for some folks.

If I get any recommendations from readers, I'll pass along the restaurant names here.

Molly Martin is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. She can be reached at 206-464-8243, or P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.

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